Bluffs development gets final vote

FILE PHOTO: A cyclist enters a section of the Katy Trail in St. Charles County on Monday, June 25, 2018, in the Weldon Spring Conservation Area just below the Missouri Bluffs Golf Club property where a controversial proposed Bluffs housing project is planned overlooking the Missouri River. Photo by Christian Gooden,

As St. Charles County officials consider a proposal to build up to 221 residences on the Missouri Bluffs near the Katy Trail, they expect to buy and preserve about 100 acres of neighboring land not slated for housing.

The county is in final talks to buy from the University of Missouri roughly 200 acres containing the Missouri Bluffs Golf Club and an additional 100 acres just west of Highway 40 (Interstate 64), St. Charles County Counselor John Watson said Wednesday at a meeting of the Planning and Zoning Commission.

If the county secures the purchase, it will ensure the land “will never be developed for industrial purposes,” Watson said.

“It will be utilized in perpetuity for the enjoyment of the beauty of that land,” he said. “And we’ll put the type of restrictions on that land that will hold it in that status forever.”

The land, in unincorporated St. Charles County, is just southeast of about 135 acres of public land the University of Missouri is under contract to sell to developer Greg Whittaker of NT Builders LLC, who plans to build 161 single-family homes and up to 60 multifamily units.

Environmental groups, local residents and trail enthusiasts decried the university’s move, first announced in late 2017, and packed St. Charles County meetings to voice concerns the housing project would permanently mar the landscape. The Planning and Zoning Commission on Wednesday voted a second time to recommend the County Council reject construction plans for the project, but the council is expected to override the commission’s recommendation a second time when it meets Aug. 12.

After the controversial sale to Whittaker, the university announced in the spring that it was seeking public agencies to buy and preserve the adjacent 200 acres of bluffs land. The university said 46 of those acres along the Katy Trail would be restricted for use as trails and public space. About 100 acres would be open to the public.

The golf course is governed by a long-term lease that prevents development for 74 years.

The university owned the bluffs land as part of the Missouri Research Park that developed along Highway 40 over the last 30 years. It received 8,000 acres for $1 as federal surplus property in 1948; the federal government had taken parts of the property from residents during World War II for the manufacture of ordnance and uranium processing.

After fulfilling the stipulation that the land be used only for research for 20 years, the university gained the right to sell it.

Rhonda Hanne, of Weldon Spring, is a descendant of people who once lived on the land. She spoke against Whittaker’s project at the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting Wednesday and said the proposed subdivision site, as well as the neighboring bluffs land the county hopes to buy, should be preserved for public use.

“It is a shame that all of this ground is going to be sold and these families are not going to have any benefit from it at all,” she said. “If they’re not going to benefit from it, then it needs to stay in the community.”

Get updates every weekday morning about the latest news in the St. Louis business community.

Reporter covering breaking news and crime by night. Born in Algeria but grew up in St. Louis. Previously reported for The Associated Press in Jackson, Mississippi and at the Wichita Eagle in Wichita, Kansas.